Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: HomeSchoolPiano

Piano instruction has always been a big part of our family. We decided early on that we wanted our girls to be well versed in music, and have always felt that learning piano was a fundamental key to understanding how music works, before moving on to other instruments. We were very excited to review HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books with a lifetime subscription to an account at HomeSchoolPiano.

What is HomeSchoolPiano? This is an online course that can be used by up to five different family members. It includes levels of Core training for very basic beginners, all the way up to fairly advanced piano playing. A big part of the program is teaching improvisation, which allows the pianist to first learn the basics of a song, then learn how to 'make it their own' by adding in various extra sounds and patterns.

What does a typical online lesson look like? A typical lesson will last about 10 minutes, with suggestions given for additional practice time. The screen is set up in such a way that you see the instructor, the keyboard, and a birds eye view of the fingering all at the same time! It looks like this:

The instructor, Willie, seen at the bottom left corner, talks in an upbeat and encouraging way, and thoroughly explains the technique being demonstrated. While he is instructing, his face is always visible. A second camera is showing his hand moving on the keyboard, and exact fingerings are shown by orange highlighting on the keyboard at the top of the screen.

Willie is funny, engaging, and very enthusiastic. He makes a great piano teacher!

But these are not just online piano lessons! This is actually an entire course, complete with books, worksheets, quizzes, and awesome record keeping. This course is a complete system. When you purchase the lifetime subscription, you are also purchasing access to the instruction books that can be downloaded. We downloaded the book that Kelly was mostly working from, and it was 52 pages long. Included in it is actual sheet music, as well as practice exercises and extra written explanation of the online lessons.

Here is a sample page from Book 1, on the subject of Improvisation:

What method is used to teach piano?  HomeSchoolPiano uses a unique blend of overlapping training, in a "learn at your own pace" speed. The first set of lessons is called Core Piano, and includes 33 short videos that teach very basic piano terms, music theory, and techniques to beginners, introducing them to methods and words that they will need to know later on as they advance through the levels.

There are three levels. Each level has it's own lesson book. Each level is broken down into six units. Each unit examines one song, and advances through six stages of video lessons for that song, breaking it down into manageable pieces of instruction for the student. The following diagram illustrates the order of teaching. First the song is introduced and technique is demonstrated. In the next lesson, the rhythm of the song is broken down and carefully examined. Ear training comes next, showing the student various patterns within the music. Note reading is also included, so the student is receiving instruction in both ear training and reading music. Both are an integral part of playing the piano. Lastly, once the student has mastered the song as it is written, the lesson on improvisation shows them how to customize the song and add their own creative touch.

By the time a student has completed a unit, they have thoroughly picked a song apart and learned how to play it well. With enough practice, it is entirely possible for the student to have mastered the song by the completion of the unit.

Here is the layout of a unit: 

The bonus at the end is an interesting perk that feels like a reward at the end of mastering the song of that unit. Each unit has its own bonus feature, that shows the student something really cool to add to their piece.

What do the levels cover? Book 1 is for the beginner, and covers basic scales, theory, and dynamics. If someone has no previous piano experience, they should definitely start at the Core Piano lessons, but I think the Core Piano lessons also make great review for Book 1 students.

Book 2 explores much more improvisation, and builds on the foundation that Book 1 lays. There are different fingering patterns and music styles that are introduced. Book 3 covers all the scales, and actually advances the student into the realm of composing their own musical pieces.

HomeSchoolPiano even keeps great records! Once you log in, there is a box that shows where you left off, allowing the student to easily return to the end of their last lesson with one simple click. This was a great help to my 9 year old, who was using the lessons on her own and was a bit overwhelmed with all the choices available on the website. With the one click box, she easily just picked up where she left off.

For a teacher, the record keeping that is built into this program is just plain tremendous. As long as each student remembers to sign in to their own account, the program will track how much they finish from each lesson. As the parent, I can click the records for each student and easily see where they were at, and how much work they had put in. I could also see their quiz grades.

As you can see from the records above, we have skipped around quite a bit using this program, to try to get a feel for as much of it as we could for the review. I am looking forward to going back and systematically moving through each level until all are completed, in order.  Each student
has their own records page such as the one shown above.

What are the quizzes like? The quizzes that I saw were short and sweet. They were aligned closely to the lessons, and if the student did well with the lesson, they would have no trouble with the multiple choice quiz. Also, if they answered incorrectly, they were allowed to go back, examine their wrong answers,  and re-submit new answers. I love this because it allows the student to work to mastery of the subject matter.

Here is a sample quiz question: 

In the above quiz, the student plays the 20 second sound bite, then selects the correct answer from the 3 options given. There were 4 such questions on this particular quiz.

What special equipment is needed?  There is none really! Of course, the student will need a piano or keyboard to work with, but the piano/keyboard does not need to be connected to the computer. The lessons can be viewed on any device that can access the internet. (We liked to take the iPad over to the piano, watch the lesson, then pause it and work on the exercises) The videos can be viewed on any media player on your computer.

What age is this program geared towards? Because of the simple, work-at-your-own-pace nature of this program, as well as the 24 hour access, this program really is good for all ages. Even a young child can follow along the Core Piano lessons, and learn the basics. As they master that, they can move on and start working on more involved techniques. At any time, a lesson that is not mastered can be repeated and worked on again. This program is simple, but not childish. As an adult, I have greatly enjoyed using this program, and felt completely able to grasp what was being taught, in the privacy of my own home, without feeling inferior or embarrassed when I had to repeat the video because I didn't quite catch it the first time.

How much does it cost? The complete package of HomeSchoolPiano that gives unlimited life time access to all the lessons (Core to Advanced), for up to 5 students, as well as all the bonuses such as downloadable books, sheet music, and jam tracks costs $299. Just stop for a moment and compare that to the cost of a life time of piano lessons! There is also a payment plan available, allowing the buyer to make 3 payments of $99.97 each over 3 months.

How did we use this...and what do we think? Kelly, age 9, and myself were the main people to use this program. We jumped around quite a bit with Kelly, trying to find where she would best fit into the lesson structure. She has taken piano lessons for most of her life, so I wanted her to be challenged, yet not be overwhelmed. This is summer, and we are trying to take it easy, after all! Besides, I really believe music instruction should be enjoyable and not frustrating. Kelly enjoyed being able to sign in and do this on her own. She would often repeat videos, either because she really liked the lesson, or she didn't quite have the concept down, and wanted to hear it and try it again. She thinks Willie is a funny teacher, and enjoyed the lessons. She thought the songs were hard, but that's ok. I encouraged her that it was good to challenge herself with learning some new things.

As for myself, I have taken piano off and on over the years. I have had multiple instructors, and though I "know my way" around the keys, I have never really felt like I could pull all my bits and pieces of knowledge together enough to actually play a song, or accompany my children as they sing. There were things I learned watching these videos that bridged many of the gaps in my piano learning, and really helped me to grasp the concepts more completely. I was fascinated to be able to actually (sort of) play some of the songs in the units. It definitely inspired me to continue on with these lessons, as time allows, and try to increase my piano skills. The kids enjoyed seeing me work through the lessons as well. 

The only qualm I had about the lessons is what seems to be a heavy emphasis on jazz music and techniques. Personally, I prefer more classical pieces, and although the concepts taught can be applied to any type of music, I would have preferred to have a broader selection of styles in the songs that we worked on.

Here's a short video of Kelly working on a lesson:

Overall Opinion: I LOVE this program! I feel blessed beyond measure to have a lifetime subscription to it, and look forward to happily expanding my piano skills while working through the lessons. I have some personal piano playing goals that I have set, and I really feel like they are attainable because of using this program. HomeSchoolPiano would especially be good for large families that have multiple children who desire piano lessons, or families that live in rural settings or on the mission field and do not have access to a piano teacher. For all that is offered, I feel this program is extremely affordable.

Connect with HomeSchoolPiano on Social Media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HomeschoolPiano
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jazzedge
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/jazzedge/

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  1. Very good review. Very informative. I also did a review, but did not look at the parts of the program we did not use, so I learned quite a bit from your review. Thank you!

    1. So glad you found it helpful! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. From all of us at Jazzedge, we thank you for your unbiased review. Hope you enjoy the lessons!


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